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Before the Dawn of the Unread

straitjacket of mental patient Agnes Richter

[Creative Nottingham welcomes guest blog posts from local creatives about their work. Today we have James Walker explaining some of the triggers for his forthcoming interactive graphic novel which will be made available across media platforms.  If you would like to contribute, write to us (editor AT creativenottingham.com) or comment on this post. Now over to Jamesl:]

As a lover of books I’m always interested in ways that literature can be expanded into other art forms as a means of generating an interest in the written word. The Spanish artist Jaume Plensa is a good example of this. His recent exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park demonstrated how text could form the framework of large scale sculptures, enabling readers such as myself to spend hours devouring each word while other visitors simply appreciated the form and structure. And where do you start with the Alhambra Palace in Granada? The intricately stylised walls at first look like simple decoration but in between the images are over 10,000 Arabic inscriptions which are currently being decoded. Is this the world’s largest book or a piece of architecture dating back to 889? Well it depends on the reader…

straitjacket of mental patient Agnes Richter

Straitjacket embroidered by asylum patient Agnes Richter in the 1890s. (Image: This Is Not Modern Art tumblr)

I mention this as I’m currently putting together an interactive graphic novel called Dawn of the Unread which will feature ten obscure literary figures from Nottingham’s past. As an aside to the project I’m exploring the links between fashion and text. My inspiration is Agnes Richter’s embroidered straight jacket. Agnes Richter was a German seamstress held as a patient in an insane asylum during the 1890s. During her incarceration she documented her thoughts and feelings directly onto her straitjacket, using words, undecipherable phrases and drawings. This remarkable cultural artefact was collected by Hans Prinzhorn, a psychiatrist who collected the artwork of his patients at a Heidelberg psychiatric hospital in the early 20th century.

One of the featured figures in Dawn of the Unread is William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, aka the 5th Duke of Portland. The Duke was known to wear up to three frock coats at once, enjoyed wearing false beards and was generally a sartorial nightmare. When not annoying the Victorian equivalent of Gok Wan, he focussed his attention on ridiculously ambitious building projects, most of which took place underground.

Visually this lends itself perfectly to the graphic novel medium but his story is also something that can be told through fashion. Based on Agnes Richter’s straightjacket, what peculiar thoughts would be embroidered into the Duke’s (many) jackets? I’m currently talking to fashion designer Claire Ritchie about this but and if other designers out there have ideas and want to get in contact it could possibly extend to some form of exhibition or a very memorable catwalk.

Thinking about literature in a broader context is important not only for the purposes of understanding and appreciating a text but to widen and deepen participation with new audiences. As funding for the arts is slowly chipped away it’s more important than ever to build meaningful relationships across the arts sector to ensure maximum exposure for projects. Anyone who has filled out the new arts council grant form will be all too aware of a greater emphasis on reach and the means through which this is monitored. So if you’ve got any ideas on how your own practice could be incorporated into this project, please get in contact.Zombied image


James Walker is the Chair of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and Literature Editor of LeftLion magazine. For more info see www.jameskwalker.co.uk or www.dawnoftheunread.wordpress.com/